Palliative Care NSW Volunteer Support Services Programme

8 things you need to know

8 things you need to know about Palliative Care Volunteering

  1. Working in palliative care is one of the most rewarding volunteer choices anyone can make. Not only does it make a huge difference to the person who is dying and their family, but also to the volunteer's own life. Volunteers learn to cherish each day, listen deeply and value life as a precious gift. But it's not for everyone. Death and dying, end-of-life and palliative care can be difficult and sometimes confronting subjects for people to discuss. As a volunteer your role will involve supporting people and their families as they grapple with these sensitive subjects. Sensitivity, empathy, life experience, warmth and communication are essential attributes. Volunteers need to be patient, flexible, non-judgmental, understanding and accepting of other people's beliefs and values so they can navigate people through sometimes difficult conversations.
  2. Palliative Care volunteers are generally over the age of 18. They have diverse backgrounds including trades, transport and sales, nursing, social work, medicine, law, hairdressing, administration, welfare work, training and education. They might be employed, unemployed, students or retirees. There are no formal qualifications or specific experience necessary, and life experiences and compassion are enormously beneficial.
  3. As you will work closely with vulnerable people you should expect to be trained and carefully selected for the role (including security and referee checks). For example you might have to get a clearance for working with children even in an adult service, because there might be situations where the service will ask you to assist with the care of children as part of your role.
  4. Depending on the service you might have the opportunity to work in an inpatient setting, a residential setting, either or both. Volunteers who work in residential settings tend to work in the community and act more autonomously, volunteers who work in inpatient settings have to be skilled at teamwork. With increasing demand for palliative support in residential settings volunteers who are able to work in residential settings are highly valued.
  5. You may have recently lost a loved one, and now have a desire to give back into the service to provide support to others. This will be really valuable for enriching your contribution as a volunteer, but make sure you give yourself time to grieve your own loss. Most services will ask you to allow at least 12 months after your bereavement before commencing volunteering.
  6. When you have been accepted as a volunteer you should expect to be valued as a member of the team, and be able to work within a team and provide support & encouragement to your peers.  You will also need to understand and accept the philosophy of palliative care. Perhaps one of the most important criteria is that volunteers should be happy to be with people and not feel they have to fix or save people. It's about ‘presence'. And sometimes its about saying 'no, sorry I can't help you with that.'
  7. Some organisations ask volunteers to sign up for a given time, perhaps a year, because they have made a considerable investment in education, training and resources. Some services will also limit a volunteer's time to, say, four hours per week and one patient. Volunteer commitment varies usually governed by the volunteer’s availability and the service’s needs. Some volunteers will contribute 3 hours a month, some will give 20 hours a month, others more or less depending on the situation and their skills.
  8. Volunteers often move in and out of their volunteer role, this is normal and healthy. Volunteer Coordinators know that taking time out for study, holidays, work or family commitments is important so that the volunteer has a life away from the service. They also know that encouraging volunteers to pursue other interests while still remaining part of the team also helps avoids burnout.

To find out more you can contact your local palliative care service or chat with us here at Palliative Care NSW.